Debating DiLorenzo: Worshipping Lincoln and American Exceptionalism

In a 2008 interview with C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo had this to say about why people worship Lincoln:

LAMB: Why, from your perspective, do you think that people are deifying him unnecessarily?

DILORENZO: Well, there’s sort of an interesting history of that. After the war, after Lincoln was assassinated, the New England clergy began with the deification. I have in my files, in my research files, an old magazine article that has a picture of Abe Lincoln with angel’s wings ascending into the sky in an open tomb at the bottom of the picture and this was the sort of thing that went on in the immediate years after the Civil War. And I think that sort of led to the deification of the presidency, of the American presidency and it aided – this idea that some people call American exceptionalism, that Americans are exceptional people. There was a new birth of freedom after – during the Civil War, the story goes.  And, I think, a lot of Americans sort of attach their own sense of morality to the whole story of Lincoln. And so, I think that’s one reason why I get attacked a lot for trying to criticize certain things that Lincoln has done.

Crossroads Comments: This ought to give some defenders of American exceptionalism pause.  DiLorenzo’s deploring the exaltation of Lincoln as part of American exceptionalism, which, I gather, he questions.  Of course, Americans also deified Washington, but somehow DiLorenzo overlooks that; the institution of the presidency did not become nearly so powerful in the popular imagination until the 20th century.  As for the image he cites, that was a rather familiar representation in the nineteenth century, and it certainly wasn’t unique to Lincoln.  There are some interesting assertions here, but they tell us more about how DiLorenzo reasons and thinks than anything else.  As matters of historical analysis, well, they are somewhat lacking.

To be continued this afternoon …

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